When it comes to coffee, Greeks know it, make it, and enjoy it… and the numbers prove it. From the all-time summer favourite “frappe” to the omnipresent Greek coffee, the art of coffee in Greece is much like every other Greek food- and drink-related practice. It’s about the “parea”.
Greeks consume more than 5 billion cups of coffee a year and are among the countries with the highest per capita consumption in the world at over 40,000 tonnes in 2018. So, yes, we appreciate our coffee. But I would add that besides the coffee, we appreciate even more the indulgence of time and company involved in drinking coffee.
‘Pame Gia Kafe?’ – Coffee Anyone?
You see, much like drinking ouzo or raki – coffee time in Greece, which is all the time any time, is all about sharing.
Want to see a buddy, make a new friend, revisit an old flame, or simply chill… then coffee will do the trick. All you need to do is ask… “pame gia kafe?” (Want to go out for some coffee?).
This could be at any time, morning or evening. Greeks rarely say no to coffee. And thanks to decaf options, there’s no reason to. Even the famous Greek coffee has its own decaf version.
In Greece, coffee time is sacred, unlike in Paris and Rome, where coffee is drunk standing up: pure hubris to the Greek coffee lover.
Coffee is meant to be enjoyed over small talk, people watching, and unwinding.
You can see dozens of people, young or old, just hanging out a cafe fiddling with their straws – hopefully the plastic-free variety – saying nothing to each other. Just taking in life at that moment as it is.
That’s not to say that people don’t think over coffee. In the past, and there are still plenty of younger folks still doing this, looking into the coffee cup for answers was a must. But that’s a different post altogether. So stay tuned.
That said, the coffees popular in Greece in order of preference are Greek coffee followed by instant coffees, which include my favorite the mighty frappe, espresso comes next, and last, filter coffee.
Greeks & Their Coffee: The Rules
☕ When you order your coffee be as clear as possible: a wrongly made coffee will haunt you for the rest of the day. Pity isn’t it?
☕ Frappe is an iced coffee – not a milk shake (those too do exist).
☕ Don’t expect to drink your coffee in one go and then leave. Like I said, drinking coffee in Greece is a leisure activity equivalent to serious work.
“Where were you all day?”
“I was out having coffee with friends.”
That should be enough to clarify why you were absent for more than three hours. One barista went as far as to tell me that usually patrons who drink coffee in one go are “unbalanced” (to put it politely).
☕ We do NOT share coffee in Greece. And even more so due to Covid. But sharing coffee is a no-no. Greeks actually say that if I take a sip of your coffee, I will learn all your secrets. Of course, that would solve lot’s of misunderstandings – or create new ones.
☕ We never take someone’s coffee away even if there is only a melting ice cube left or the thick sediment of the Greek coffee staring right at us. This is by far the biggest mistake you can make and a tragic insult to a coffee lover. The last drop of coffee is like the last part of the ice cream cone! You shall be damned forever.
☕ No, we do not drink or eat with a spoon the sediment at the bottom of the cup of Greek coffee. The left-over sediment in the Greek coffee is meant to give us clues into our love life or money matters when we learn how to “read the cup” as the Greeks would say.
☕ Frappe coffee should be creamy NOT foamy. Can’t stress this enough. Foam bad. Cream good.
☕ Yes, there are fashions and trends to coffee drinking in Greece. You probably won’t be seen drinking a traditional Greek coffee on the posh Mykonos seafront… nor would you be found indulging in a frappe at a trendy Glyfada (Athens Riviera suburb) café. Too Greek or too “eighties” I’ve been told.
☕ Yes, Greeks refer to American coffee as filter coffee (“kafes filtrou”) and filter coffee as French (“gallikos kafes”). Go figure.
☕ Greeks rarely drink – as in really drink – coffee at work, which demonstrates its importance as a pastime activity. I mean they always have a coffee somewhere on their desks but they’re not actually enjoying it. It’s just there to put them “in the mode”.
☕ Coffee my friend: Yes, coffee is our partner accompanying us to the beach, in the car, on a road trip, on our walk with the dog, at the airport before our flight and anywhere else that involves having fun.
Coffee: The Trends & The Politics
☕ Coffee and politics: Well, yes, everything is about politics in Greece, so coffee would be too. Filter coffee or French or American coffee made its way to Greece in the late ’70s and was enjoyed by the bourgeoisie or the wealthy ones (according to those who were not, of course).
The frappe took center stage in the ’80 and ’90s as the coffee of the socialists who had one foot in the past and one in the modern present.
Then came the cappuccino which had its heyday at the turn of the millennium for about 20 years, and now we’ve got all sorts of trendy brews with the star of the coffee show being the espresso – iced, in a shot, or in a milkshake or whichever which way.
Meanwhile, hard-core leftists always opt for the Greek coffee made in the traditional manner in “hovoli” (heated sand). You’ve been warned.
☕ A good frappe is never made with any other coffee than Nescafe. Though I never support brands, this has been repeatedly tried and tested by me in Greece and abroad. All other coffees fail to create that zing.
☕ If you do not drink coffee at home or usually drink tea, avoid frappe or ask for a lighter or even decaf version. The frappe I made for a beloved American college friend years ago was more like a week-long bomb of caffeine. So make sure to ask for one “kofti” teaspoon of coffee.
☕ Spilling coffee is considered to be a sign that money is coming your way. You might wonder why we just don’t spill coffee all the time and solve our financial woes but according to the wise ones, it applies only if it happens by mistake.
☕ Last but not least: It’s common practice in Greece – even in the times of economic hardship – to treat your friends to coffee and expect they will do the same next time, which is always (or should be) very soon. So whoever says “kernao ego” means it’s on him. Greeks take “kerasma” (treating) very seriously.
With 5 billion cups of coffee a year – not to mention the man hours of drinking and sitting with friends – under our belts, we Greeks probably know our coffee very well. But I would add that we also grasp the meaning of the good life, which is basically being in the now – enjoying life this very moment – being present even if that means finding an excuse to have coffee.
🎶 There are dozens of Greek songs inspired by and about coffee but I end this week’s post with a ballad to coffee: “I Balanda tou Kafe” performed by Nena Venetsanou. Enjoy!